DeChambeau fires 65 to lead Scheffler by one at Masters

Bryson De Chambeau of The United States plays his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. AFP

Bryson DeChambeau reeled off five birdies in six holes on the back nine Thursday to hold off late-charging world number one Scottie Scheffler for a one-stroke lead at the darkness-halted 88th Masters.

DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner, fired a seven-under-par 65 for his lowest major round in relation to par while 2022 Masters winner Scheffler made four birdies in five holes on the back nine at Augusta National.

Denmark’s Nikolai Hojgaard, among 20 first-time Masters starters trying to become the first rookie winner since 1979, birdied his way through “Amen Corner” — the course’s famed 11th, 12th and 13th holes.

The Dane was two back on 5-under with three holes remaining when play was stopped for darkness after rain delayed Thursday’s start by two and one-half hours.

In all, 27 players, including 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, must finish the first round Friday morning. They include American Max Homa, 4-under through 13 holes, and England’s Tyrrell Hatton, 3-under after 14 holes.

Three adrift in fourth on 68 was England’s Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters winner who birdied three of the last four holes.

DeChambeau birdied the first three holes, stumbled with a bogey at nine, then began his birdie binge from 17 feet at the tricky par-3 12th.

“I felt like I placed the golf ball in the right places,” DeChambeau said. “For the most part I drove it well, hit it well, hit my irons well and took advantage when the opportunities presented themselves.”

DeChambeau, among 13 players from Saudi-backed LIV Golf in the Masters field, added a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 13th.

The 30-year-old American tapped in for birdie at the par-5 15th after a 40-foot eagle miss, then added a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th and an epic 31-footer to birdie 17.

“I wasn’t expecting to make that,” DeChambeau said. “But when it dropped it was pretty nice.”

Scheffler’s 66, his first bogey-free Masters round, included a nine-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second, an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-3 sixth and holing out a 30-foot bunker shot at 12.

“Any time you get off this course bogey-free, you’re going to have a good day. I was fortunate to get out with a clean card,” Scheffler said.

The 27-year-old American dropped his approach three feet from the hole to set up birdie putts at 13 and 16 around a tap-in birdie at 15.

Scheffler, trying to match Woods as the only players to win the Masters twice while atop the rankings, closed with two pars.

“You want to get off to a good start,” Scheffler said. “Mission accomplished for today.”

Woods, returning to major golf after right ankle surgery last April but still struggling to walk, seeks a 24th consecutive Masters cut to break to record he shares with Gary Player and Fred Couples.

He was 1-under after 13 holes.

Willett, shaking off a shoulder injury, answered a bogey at 14 with birdies at 15, 16 and 18 to stay in the fight.

– McIlroy has scrappy 71 –

Second-ranked Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who would complete a career grand slam by winning, fired a 71, his best Masters opening round since 2018.

McIlroy, who last won a major in 2014, made four birdies and three bogeys. He sank a 10-foot birdie putt at 12 and a 15-footer at 14 but missed the 17th green and made bogey.

“I held it together well. It was a little scrappy,” McIlroy said. “The conditions are tricky. Hard to fully commit to shots out there at times.

“Probably turned a 3-under into a 1-under there at the end but overall still not a bad score.”

Whipping winds kept tree limbs dancing across the famed 7,555-yard layout.

“When we have this amount of wind, this course is extremely tricky,” defending champion Jon Rahm said after shooting 73 and marveling at the leaders.

“Those dudes played some seriously good rounds,” he said. “I haven’t made it easy for myself. I’ll have to make up some ground quickly.”

The Spaniard, who closed with back-to-back bogeys, could become the fourth player to capture back-to-back Masters titles after Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.

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